Atari Star Wars Launch Videos

Released in 1983, Atari’s seminal arcade title Star Wars was the result of three year’s worth of intense development.

What started out as a technical proof of concept demo, known internally as Warp Speed, this vector title eventually adorned the Lucas Films licence, with speech and colourful graphics that captured the imagination of teenage gamers across America and Europe.

This was a chance for gamers to fly Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing Starfighter!

Atari Star Wars Marquee

So this week, I’ve dug out some interesting videos from 1983, that show the PR effort that went into the launch of Star Wars. Atari was struggling by this point – the videogame market was starting to shrink, and making a real impact on the fortunes of an industry which was arguably on its knees, was becoming a huge challenge. Arcades were becoming saturated with “me-too” titles and little innovation, and by the time Star Wars was ready to launch, arcades themselves were starting to close down as less consumers dropped quarters into coin boxes.

But surely this game couldn’t fail – created by Atari, the biggest name in the industry, coupled with a multi-million dollar licence of one of the biggest movie franchises to date, the Star Wars arcade game had everything going for it. Whilst not quite a make or break launch for Atari, the company was betting big on the game, and did everything it could to get the word out to encourage consumers into their local arcade – thus creating demand for Star Wars.

George Lucas play-testing the Star Wars cockpit arcade machine at the Atari factory in Sunnyvale in the summer of 1983, just weeks before the official release.

Mike Hally was the project leader on the game, and when he sat down with us on the Ted Dabney Experience Podcast, he referenced a visit to The Saturday Morning Show with Gene Rayburn.

Clearly part of the planned marketing activity for the game, Atari had secured a slot on this popular “best of” show, and Mike was chosen to fly to New York to appear on the show and talk through the game.

I was so nervous! I was really young and it was the first time I’d been on a TV show! I remember coming back to Atari [after the show] and the company had a big party, and played the thing on a big screen. They kept showing at the end where I’m leaning in and Gene kept trying to push me out of focus. People thought it was hysterical!

Mike Hally

Here is a video of that segment of the show. The host, Gene Rayburn clearly had zero clue about videogames! That, coupled with Mike’s seemingly irreverent attitude to the whole thing (despite his nervousness!) makes for cool viewing today:

Mike Hally on The Saturday Morning Show with Gene Rayburn

You can listen to our full interview with Mike here, for more insight into the game’s development.

Clearly it was all hands on deck to promote the game; even the big guns of management at Atari got their best suits on, and went and sat in front of the media.

Here, the late Don Osborne, Atari’s Vice President of Marketing, fields questions about the game from a reporter, and has some interesting things to say about the arcade video game market at that time:

Don Osborne discusses Star Wars and the state of the arcade industry in 1983

And in this archived video, clearly proud of what the company had achieved, programmer Greg Rivera takes us through some of the key elements of the game during its press launch. It’s a little dry, but still worth a watch:

Programmer Greg Rivera talks through some technical aspects of the game

To accompany the video above, shot at the same location at the same time is footage of kids enjoying the game:

More promotion here in the form of a pilot episode of a 1983 show called “The Video Game Challenge”:

Footage from the pilot episode of the ‘Video Game Challenge’ TV Show in 1983

What’s interesting about these videos, is that they were aimed at the end user – something that Atari coin operated division did very little of over the years (that was the job of the consumer division!) – but with a game riding on the back of a significant licence, launching at a time when the arcade industry was struggling, clearly it was felt that a change of tack was required.

We can only speculate, but I would imagine that the thinking was that whipping up interest with the public, then getting players to ask their local arcade when the new Star Wars game was going to arrive on the floor, would have driven cabinet sales.

As it turned out, Atari would go on to sell just over 12,000 Star Wars cabinets in total, consisting of 10,245 uprights and 2,450 cockpits. With an assumed margin of around $1,000 per cabinet, this was a multi-million dollar earner for Atari’s coin-op division, and I would argue, made it one of its greatest arcade games ever, despite being released during Atari’s arcade twilight years.

For further reading, check out some previous articles on the blog about Atari’s Star Wars:

Atari Star Wars Cockpit Development

Atari Star Wars Easter Egg

Interview with Mike Hally

Thanks as always for reading this week – your support is appreciated.

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See you next time.


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